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Magnanimity Through The Life of Madiba

photo credit: Yousuf Karsh

In the month of April, we have been focused on promoting the virtue of Magnanimity to our youth as well as our community at large. This cumbersome word is not only difficult to say but it also presents quite the challenge to live out as well. According to Alexandre Havard, author of From Temperament to Character, it is the assigned virtue of leaders. Larger than life, wouldn’t you agree? To break this big word down a bit further, magnanimity represents bigheartedness or greatness of the soul. To be magnanimous in a world rife with power dynamics rooted in prejudice is to believe in the often unseen, elusive, highest potentiality of mankind (let us consider MLK’s Dream). Broken into two parts, it is equally as contemplative as it is active. Therefore, a magnanimous person is someone who is deeply convicted in their philosophy and presents as a physical representation of said belief. In order to better illustrate what Magnanimity looks like in real life, let us take some time to examine the life of the indomitable Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in 1918 in the village of Umtata (South Africa). His background is eclectic on account of his parents being of different tribes and religious faiths, while his father was a follower of his native Xhosa teachings, his mother was a Methodist and raised young Mandela in the Christian faith. Mandela’s father passed when he was just nine years old and although he was not particularly close with his father he identified with his father’s “stubborn sense of fairness,” a quality that Mandela would later become widely known for.

Ultimately, his penchant for pursuing truth and advocating for fairness led to a decision to pursue law. As the only black African student in his courses Mandela naturally faced racism, however, he channeled his frustrations most notably through political advocacy. Through his advocacy work Nelson Mandela was able to connect with people of various ideologies, however, he initially aligned himself with the philosophy of one Anton Lembede, who would become the founding leader of the African Council of the Youth League. Alongside Lembede, Mandela advocated for direct action against the system of racial segregation known as apartheid, which was widely enforced in South Africa at that time. Through advocacy, Mandela was stepping into his calling and gaining traction within the political realm, however, as a result of all this time spent in the community he did not maintain good academic standing and was unable to graduate from university.

Mandela continued to work toward justice for Blacks with the African National Congress throughout the 1950s and modeling the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Mandela helped organize the Defiance campaign to nonviolently protest the system of apartheid. Mandela’s philosophies changed throughout the 1950s, however, his vehement opposition of racism was unwavering. By 1962, the South African police captured Mandela on the charge of inciting worker strikes, which resulted in his initial sentencing of 5 years. However, during this time of imprisonment information surfaced surrounding the MK group that Mandela was also affiliated with. These new charges of attempting to overthrow the government meant that Mandela was now facing the death sentence, during these second rounds of proceedings Mandela delivered his iconic “I Am Prepared to Die” speech. The judge ultimately ruled on life imprisonment for Mandela rather than death by the state from 1964 to 1990 Mandela sat in prison as a result of his conviction.

How many of us could withstand over 20 years of confinement on account of a moral belief? This is a great testament to magnanimity and the purpose that God puts on some of us to endure. Mandela devoted his life to a cause that seemed to be a never-ending battle and he suffered a great deal behind it but in doing so he inspired so many others to fight against injustice and ultimately, that speaks to the power of his magnanimity. When we see others so convicted it commands a response in us - because they are living their belief out loud no matter the cost. Mandela was ultimately released from Victor Versten Prison on February 11, 1990, under the order of the leader F.W. de Klerk.

Following his imprisonment, Mandela capitalized on his influence and sought to bring peace to the nation’s unrest. The year 1994 brought another triumphant win for Mandela as this was the year he was elected the President of South Africa, making him the country’s first black chief executive. Mandela’s story lives on as one of resilience and power, even when silenced by the government the impact he made was undeniable. Even when he was away he motivated the people to keep fighting for justice. As a magnanimous person, he saw something wrong with his country and dedicated his entire life to addressing the situation - he did not cower to threats and he was not afraid of death because he was convinced of his purpose. God bless Madiba!


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